Starbucks is an ever-changing experience. You can take any slice of time in Starbucks history, and talk about massive changes. The Starbucks experience of the 1990s was just as disruptive as as it is now.
I think that I’m personally getting better and better at just going with the flow at Starbucks. Lots of people have the belief that there was one perfect segment in time in Starbucks history. I don’t think so. And maybe, just maybe, Starbucks is helping to teach me to be more adaptable and forward-thinking. (Well, I am trying to go with the flow.)
When I started as a Starbucks customer, I remember seeing this logo on cups, mugs, and signs in the stores:
That’s the logo that was in use at Starbucks from 1987 to 1992. (I moved to Seattle in 1989). So I’ve been through three logos with Starbucks. I definitely remember this: there was only one milk. You could get whole milk at Starbucks. In the early 1990s, there was no such thing as a Frappuccino. If you had asked a Starbucks barista if Starbucks would ever be selling coffee beans in grocery stores, they probably would have said “no.” Beans were scooped from bins. The menu sizes were “short,” “tall,” and “grande.” There was no such thing as Venti. The merchandise inside a Starbucks was phenomenal. Starbucks sold games, mugs, trinkets, toys, gold coffee filters, a variety of coffee makers and presses, books, and you name it. During the 1990s, every Starbucks had quadruple the merchandise of what you find in a store now. Imagine if you walked into a Starbucks now and saw collectible Limoge boxes, or a snow globe?
I distinctly remember being at the Nordstrom at Northgate Mall and see Starbucks – Nordstrom Blend Coffee: Starbucks made a whole bean coffee just for Nordstrom at one point in the 1990s.
Some of the conversations I remember from the 1990s, went like this: “Hey Jim, have you noticed that ‘short’ is no longer on the menu?” (Jim’s drink order has not changed in twenty years: “double short breve latte.” This conversation, while standing in the kitchen of his house in North Seattle, was a big deal. He is the one who reassured me that I could still order a “short” beverage.) “This is so weird! You can buy Starbucks coffee in grocery stores now!” “Hey, have you noticed that the Green Lake Starbucks has food now?” There was a time when there was no way to buy anything that resembled a lunch at Starbucks. I remember that for a long time, it seemed like the Starbucks staples were butter-horns, a couple of muffins, a cinnamon twist thing that looked like a churro, and maybe a croissant. That’s about it. There were no breakfast sandwiches. There was no way to warm anything. I remember when there were just a handful of syrup choices. Almond was an extremely popular syrup in the 1990s. There were no drive-thrus. Speed of service, sometimes to customers’ annoyance, wasn’t the highest priority.
I remember buying tickets at the Oak Tree Starbucks for a Starbucks-sponsored KPLU Jazz Cruise. I remember looking cups and mugs at Starbucks, and every single one had a coupon inside of it for a free beverage. For a long, long, time, you ALWAYS got your cup, mug, or tumbler filled with a free beverage when you bought one inside the store. You didn’t walk out with it empty. I remember Starbucks selling magazines, and never buying one because I thought they looked strange to me. I remember when every Starbucks that I knew of (I only had two regular Starbucks – Oak Tree and Northgate) had two separate lines and registers: there was a whole bean line and a beverage line.
In 2004, I remember a couple of very weird things. I returned to Seattle, having spent three years living in San Francisco from 2001 to 2004. And, when I returned to the Northgate Starbucks – that store had been my main store for a decade, I was stunned that there was a huge CD burning machine in the space that had once housed the condiment bar. (2004 was the end of the Hear Music era of Starbucks – the CD burning machines in select stores were part of that era.) And in 2004, I definitely remember this weird feeling that the number of Starbucks in Seattle had quadrupled. When I left in 2001, it seemed like there were a handful of stores, and I came back to the experience that there is a Starbucks everywhere in Seattle. I remember when the stores were filled with pottery. It seemed like the massive pottery era also ended in about 2004.
I’m sure that I missed an enormous amount that Starbucks did. Back in that era, I went to Starbucks like 30 times a year, in contrast to 30 times a month now. At this point, I am sometimes aware of what Starbucks will be doing before it happens.
I write all this out because – to be totally truthful – I just groan at the words, “Starbucks will never do that.” The one thing that Starbucks has unequivocally proven is that they’re good at change.
It’s okay to go with the flow.
I’ve only worked for Starbucks for 6 years, but I have seen so many things change. Adaptability is the name of the game for sure! Blended beverages strike me as the most changed during my Sbux career so far. We went from brewing Italian Roast for the base, to getting premade coffee and light bases in tetra packs, and packets for creme base (which didn’t exist at all before), to the frappuccino roast that we use now with the pump bases. Vivanno smoothies launched in 2008 I think as Vivanno, then Vivanno Smoothie, and now just smoothies – with chocolate not even on my menu. We have a lot of new espresso beverage standards and beautiful new machines to create inspired moments with. Clover, anyone?
I love watching Starbucks grow and try new things and I am so thankful to be along for the ride.
@MagicKat Do you remember the vivanno training video where they insisted “it’s not a smoothie, it’s a vivanno nourishing blend!”
…plus ça change…
PS The only thing I’d like to see Starbucks bring back is the almond syrup, but I know I’m in the minority on that.
Patrick Flynn - Coffee Master
I miss those days too. But I feel like the “walks down Starbucks memory lanes” are now another extension of the Starbucks experience. I started in the Orange County stores in 2000. One example that blows my mind is I work with a partner that was 8 years old as a customer with his Mom when I was a new Barista he just turned 22 freak out on that. Plus for a while there when we opened stores like every 45 minutes in the 02 thru 06 era I so wanted to transfer to the Santa Monica Hear Music Store. I almost was brought to tears when I walked in there for the first time. It was like Tower Records and Starbucks hugged each other and popped out a store. the store AND concept of my dreams!!!!! The perfect pairing Lattes and listening stations and custom made CDs that Baristas would burn for you complete with dye-cut custom art covers and cool discs. I will not give up my Hear Music Card with two turntables and a mixer on it. (I’m a DJ/Barista and I’d rather drink Folgers then give it up) Or my Hear Music handle bag (it’s a very old bag). I was just shocked to find a rare Madonna Box set there…..so I bought it, complete with a Partner discount!!!! Oh and the Almond syrup….one day me and some Baristas wanted to try and make Almond Coke, oddly when added to Coke it made it Cherry Coke. For some reason the Almond syrup in a can of Coke makes Cherry Coke. It will not taste like Almond AT ALL. oops sorry this was so long…..lol I love the old days and have millions of stories I tell customers so I can babble on and on and on…….
I miss walking into a Starbucks and being overwhelmed with the smell of coffee, and the ritual of buying hand-scooped coffee.
I love Almond syrup. I spam all my contacts at the Pcc to bring it back! I have also submitted it to msi. I started visiting Starbucks in my city in 2004 but I also vividly remember going to Vancouver and being so excited to be in a Starbucks. I was 12 when I bought my first merchandise piece. It’s a weird thing for a kid to buy but I bought a coffee canister that I still use to this day. It’s a prized possession, old logo, metal latch ceramic top and base, seals tightly.
Speaking if change I’m moving today, got to go drink some coffee for the last time in this home.
Wow Melody another great post going down history lane with SB. I remember and miss some of the things you wrote about and agree that you have to go with the flow and adapt but I do not totally agree with some of the changes SB has made. I know nothing can ever stay the same, however, I feel they have taken away some of the charm and community of the stores. Can it ever go back? Probably not.
This is one of the reasons I love working for this company! You know that you will always have something new to stay in front of the competition, it may not always work but why not give it a try? Pink-Lime Frotz and the Evenings Program last year in the ATL and this year soda, can’t wait to see what we will test next year!
@Becca – Getting rid of Almond Syrup was a sad thing!
@Nathan – Love that spirit! That’s part of what inspired this blog post. Just the other day I was trying to re-create the Pink Lime Frozt in a store, and it was a disaster experience. The barista had no idea what I was talking about (that makes sense actually) and I didn’t really know the ingredients. (And, I was a little annoyed that she decided to throw the lime wheel in the blender – I definitely didn’t ask for any inclusions, and explained I was trying to re-create the Frozt.) What was in the Frozt? Do you know all the ingredients?
@Purple1 – 90% of the charm of a store, for me, is in the experience. I think when I started this blog in 2009, and especially before 2009 too, I was a little more non-flexible about Starbucks changing on me. Now, I’m just better at change. I am starting to be able to take a long-view approach with Starbucks, and be a little bit forward-leaning about it too. And no matter what happens, so long as I can find a beverage I like, and see partners who are passionate about what they do, all will be fine.
Melody there is no doubt that experience in a store makes you feel welcomed, but I find some of stores are still a bit sterile and the partners on automatic that the experience is not there. BTW I just heard that one of the Target stores near me will have a licensed SB in it by the end of September. Another Target already has one. Also, I try to overlook the decor, etc. if the partners and experience hit the spot for sure. As you know, that can change from one store to the other.
This was so fun to read! I think the most “difficult” Starbucks move for me to swallow was selling flavored coffee. For years I’d been inundated with the attitude that “If you have to add flavor to coffee, it’s because you’re starting out with a subpar bean and Starbucks does NOT sell flavored coffee.”
And then, a few years ago, enter flavored Via and, only sold in grocery stores, the flavored ground coffee.
I remember the little coupons for free drinks. The occurrence of theft was VERY high. So for a while we went to just giving the drink to them when the mug/cup/tumbler was purchased, but often they are bought as gifts to be given later, so we’d give out a bunch of service recovery cards. And finally just gave up on the whole idea.
I think Starbucks has done a pretty solid job of anticipating customer needs and wants, and meeting people where they are.
Great post, Melody, and now I am feeling “old” because I remember so much of it. I, too, miss walking into the Starbucks and smelling all that great coffee and buying fresh beans out of bins. Some people I know still miss Chantico. (Remember that? Of course you do.)
But you’re absolutely right — change is the only constant, and I am not just talking about Starbucks.
@Melody, thanks for the memory trip.
Since enjoying my first Starbucks in 1979 my head almost spins when I think of the changes from then to now. In any business change is necessary, but what should not change are the core values. Unfortunately too many companies forget that, some may never recover (recent examples Sears and JCPenney and even Apple is teetering). I have seen Starbucks wander too many times away from the original core values, they have to be practiced not just a pledge on a piece of paper.
Often when customers complain about change it is often not really the “change” that they are complaining about, but the variance from the core values.
I still have confidence in Starbucks and even this old fuddy duddy knows that change really in inevitable.
BTW, going back to my tiger Gravatar for awhile.
I remember most of those things as well. I remember in 1990’ish when Starbucks first opened near me in So. Cal. my hubby & I would drive 30 minutes on the weekend to enjoy Starbucks. Every-time one opened a little closer we did a happy dance. I Loved all the merch & was always excited to see new stuff. Up until a few years ago I had several of the barista bears. I loved the travel cups. My favorites were these sort of weird looking mugs that were twice as big on the bottom, I had one that was white ceramic with a world map & one some sort of silver colored metal. I remember the drawers of beans & bringing back the bags for a discount & for here cups & plates. I miss the old pastries & I remember if you asked if they could warm them or toast a bagel they looked at you funny. I worked for Starbucks in early 2000’s & they said warming the pastries interfered with the coffee aroma. Funny how things change
@bmommyx2 – The mugs were much more exotic in the past – Those world map mugs end up on eBay now! Do you remember that in 2008, when Starbucks introduced Pike Place Roast, there was this brief time when it was scooped by baristas and sold that way? That didn’t last long. I think, though, Starbucks somehow thought that the launch of Pike Place Roast was going to bring the aroma of coffee back into the stores. That didn’t really happen. If you really want to smell coffee at Starbucks, my experience has been that being firmly planted near the Clover is the best seat in the house.
I’m a Starbucks barista from Australia, and we have almond syrup here!
Starbucks has entered an Edsel phase…
A few minutes ago I zombied into my favorite store…
asked for my usual large dark coffee and lemon poundcake…
paid 20 cents more for it…
adjusted my tip down accordingly…
and received a very nice warm oblong cake which was NOT my lemon pound cake!
not bad, but greasier to handle while I’m hurtling down the road…
Prediction: I went to Starbucks 30 times last month, in contrast to 30 times a year from now on.
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
- DEVIN on Compostable Straws Land in Seattle Starbucks Stores
- coffeebeanz on Why do you go to Starbucks less often? (If that’s true for you)
- Willi on You can now buy a Siren statue: $6,000
- Willi on A major revamp of your drink recipe: Testing syrup extracts and cane sugar
- Skip on Why do you go to Starbucks less often? (If that’s true for you)
Melody, I cannot imagine not having food!!! And especially not having the ability to warm anything. Do you know ALL of my music is purchased on iTunes but I will buy 2-3 CD’s at various Starbucks! Ha! I bring them home and just download them into my iTunes library. I love how the company is continually evolving. I hope we always have the bistro boxes, salads, and food. I’m sure all this will get better with time. As we know Starbucks is like a body of water, ever changing and flowing!